GOVERNMENT’s decision to scrap civil servants’ bonuses for at least two years is largely symbolic, not least because it attests to the new depths to which Treasury’s purse and the country’s economy at large have plumbed.
Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja
Since Independence in 1980, the thirteenth cheque has been a tradition for the public sector at the end of the year — the festive season — no matter how tough the economic situation was.
Even songs were composed in praise of the payment which, during better days, afforded workers the rare opportunity to spoil their families and make deposits for furniture, among other goods.
Its economic implications were considerable, with successive finance ministers raising the bonus tax-free threshold to “cushion workers against economic hardships” while also stimulating economic activity through increased purchasing power.
The decision by government, unpopular as it is, was expected in light of the state’s dwindling coffers. Government is desperately struggling to meet its salary obligations against the backdrop of shrinking revenue as the moribund economy splutters on. In any case, there is the matter of last year’s bonuses which are still to be fully paid as we approach mid-year.
The timing of the no-more-bonus announcement — ahead of Independence Day commemorations tomorrow — serves to increase the deep sense of foreboding as Zimbabweans will no doubt reflect on whether the nation — once dubbed the “Jewel of Africa” — will ever regain its lost lustre.
And worse is in store for civil servants: government is currently seized with a head count of the public service, which would inform a retrenchment exercise to trim the wage bill gobbling more than 80% of state revenues.
Last week government increased rentals for civil servants and other tenants occupying its houses by more than 100%. So much for President Robert Mugabe’s promises prior and subsequent to the 2013 general elections that civil servants would get salaries above the poverty datum line.
It just goes to prove, as if any proof was needed, it is now the height of folly to take anything for granted given the country’s deteriorating economic climate where even a pay day — or the salary itself — is far from certain.
The suspension of bonuses is unlikely to help much in creating “fiscal space to finance ZimAsset”, as claimed by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, or, wait for it, “eventually lead to full national economic recovery”, as gullibly claimed by the state media.
Thus, instead of celebrating Independence, many Zimbabweans would be mulling over the mounting debris of economic regression: the continued collapse of social services, including hospitals, ailing parastatals that continue to bleed the fiscus, company closures, retrenchments and job losses and the informalisation of the economy. Even tap water and electricity are in short supply amid infrastructure decay.
From this vantage point government would do well to bite the bullet and concede failure. The cathartic effects could just be the elixir to action that would genuinely turns around Zimbabwe’s fortunes.